Friday, February 28, 2014

A History of Lorrie Moore Reading Through Full-Title Pages (in Advance of Our Event for "Bark" on March 3).

In advance of our reading with Lorrie Moore this coming Monday, March 3, 7 pm for Bark, and in the spirit of the flurry of books, magazine articles, and television specials using the theme "a history of this in that many objects," I present a history of Lorrie Moore reading through six full title pages and the five signatures that accompany them.

1985. I am working in New York publishing. Folks would call me from other houses and ask for copies of our books in exchange for copies of their books. The higher ups seemed ok with this as they would pretty regularly ask me to get copies of books for them from other houses. You wouldn't think publishing folks would want to get their hands on the latest miracle diet (I worked on a number), but they did. Sometimes I would know what I wanted in exchange, sometimes I held onto the favor for when a vice president came calling, and sometimes I said, "surprise me."

And that's how Self Help fell into my lap. It's my only unsigned copy. I don't know why. It's a first edition in very nice shape, but apparently collectors had a feeling about her. There are a lot of copies out there, and while hardcover first editions are not going for a dollar, they are fairly reasonably priced.

1986. I have moved to Milwaukee (corrected from New York--thanks, John!) to begin working at Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops. I read voraciously, as many as 20 books a month. I should note that I not only do not have cable (expensive) or internet (apparently invented, but still a secret), I actually keep my tiny television in a storage locker, and pull it out only for viewing emergencies. This is also when I do my dishes in the bathtup, a la Laurie Colwin. But don't forget, as Maureen Corrigan notes in her NPR review (where she compares the author to Emily Dickinson), we're talking about the other Lorrie.

Anagrams comes out, and I love it. It's my #1 book for the month of October 1986, as you must know by now, in my younger days, I ranked everything. I write: "I love the way Moore plays with structure. What could have been a Knopf-y woman's novel instead becomes a fascinating game of words. From the puns and the word games to the convoluted and sometimes imaginary lives of the characters, this book was great fun. Remember--an anagram is when you rearrange the characters to make a new word, but Moore's Anagrams is when you rearrange characters to make a new world."

I was 25. I had no editor. Among the 17 other books I read that month were Crackpot, by John Waters, Paradise, by Donald Barthelme, The Well, by Elizabeth Jolley, and Enchantment, by Daphne Merkin. Of the lowest ranked book,a collection of essays, whose author I will not reveal, I wrote "Who would want to be friends with this self-important slime of a man? Not me."

At this point, Schwartz doesn't really have much of a reading program. It's mostly signings. My friend John convinces me to go to Five Star Fiction in Madison for a reading.The book is signed and dated, but not personalized. Ebay hasn't been invented yet.

1990. At this point, I am a buyer for Schwartz, though I'm only being trained on frontlist by A. David Schwartz. He's given me some smaller lines to buy, but I don't think he handed over Knopf's parent, Random House, until 1991. As the all-important backlist buyer, pre-electronic ordering, I call or fax or sometimes mail in orders to publishers. Seasonally the reps will come in and take orders from me for stock orders. I seem to remember it takes two days for me to buy the Harper & Row backlist.

At this point, Moore could have come for Like Life, but I can't tell. Our monthly Schwartz newsletter started up full scale in 1994. She signed my copy, but it's not dated, so it's possible that she did this as a backlist title. And yes, Like Life was my number one book for the month, outmaneuvering only nine other books for the month from Sue Miller, Vicki Covington, Sue Townsend, Michael Nava, John Banville, and once-fellow-Madisonian Kelly Cherry.

I write: "This collection abandons the experimental structures of Self Help and Anagrams. Still Moore's women remain sharp and biting, always quick wih a fun turn of phrase. The plots contain the anticipated share of absurdities. I guess my favorite would be "You're Ugly Too "which concerns a midwestern professor who comes to New York to go to her sister's Halloween party. She is set up on a blind date, but she decides she hates him when he tells her she should wear more blue."

It was clear in this stage of her writing that she was not particularly happy with Wisconsin. I have noticed this with other writers. They write about New York and it's "exact and place-y" as I noted in my review. But send them anywhere else and the geography is murky. Perhaps this is because so many of these story writers aim to be featured in The New Yorker?

The book is inscribed to Daniel, not dated.

1994. Lorrie Moore definitely did come for an event at Schwartz this time. I had assumed she appeared at the Shorewood store, but it turned out that my write up noted that she read at Brookfield while my friend Lisa and I were driving through Albany, which was where part of the novel took place.  It was a tough month for ranking, as she was competing with my advance reads of Elinor Lipman's Isabel's Bed and Michael Cunningham's Flesh and Blood. Her ranking of #3 may have been influenced by me touting the other authors' upcoming readings.

I wrote: "She still has the wordplay I enjoy and her sharp, dry wit, but the straightforwardness of the narative reflects a new maturity tha affected readers and and reviewers alike (it was on the Village Voice A List for quite a whiled). It's as if Moore uses an emotional microscope." A List? Village Voice? What are these things that once had national meaning?

Because paperback rights on this book were sold to another publishing house, I think Moore came back to Milwaukee on a paperback tour, and I'm pretty sure that this time she went to our Shorewood location. The book is inscribed to the unusual "Daniel G."

1998. This time I worked the signing at the Downer Avenue location because I noted in my review that I forgot to get the backlist signed. At this point I was sort of writing my book lists in themes, which is a prelude to "making it too complicated to keep up with.

At this point, my reading level was down to a more reasonable seven books in a month and for the third time, Lorrie Moore had my #1 book, beating out such heavy hitters as Ethan Canin, Edwidge Danticat, Fay Weldon (I devoured her), and Susan Minot. I wrote: "Moore continues to probe the insides of her characters' devastated states, with sad and funny results. If death seems closer to these characters than in Like Life and Self Help, perhaps that is a function of the author's age and that it's been acclaimed everywhere, what can you learn from me?"

This is the only advance reading copy in my collection. It is inscribed to "Daniel Goldin."

2009. I was a bit of whine baby as we couldn't get Lorrie Moore to come to Milwaukee on the initial tour. We finally got a date, and as you may have heard if you attended the event, the car service didn't show up and she wound up taking a taxi.

Our evening with Lorrie Moore for A Gate at the Stairs wound up being a wonderful evening, a great memory for me and all the folks who attended. At this point, I was still writing down books I wrote, but the write-ups I did each month have sort of morphed into this blog.

The book is personalized to Daniel with a very sweet message. Sigh.

2014. Lorrie Moore returns to Boswell for her third time (yes, she came once as an event attendee) on Monday, March 3, 7 pm. I am looking forward to getting my book signed.

On the next post, I yap about Bark.


john eklund said...

1. assume you will ask her to sign Self-Help Monday?
2. we must know who the self-important slime is. Please?
3. by moved to NY you mean to Milwaukee, no?

Daniel Goldin said...

Fixed! I am not revealing that person.